Thrift store purchases often come with an unexpected add on – an ancient train ticket tucked inside the pages of a dusty old book; an intriguing inscription on the inside cover giving you clues about the previous owner. The vintage equivalent of a buy one get one free, if you like.
Rarely do such discoveries turn out to be of historic value – or make news headlines.
So when Colorado’s Ilene Oritz found a few sheets of paper tucked inside the sleeve of some old vinyl plucked from the rickety shelves of a second hand store, she could have no way of knowing what journey lay ahead of her.
On closer inspection she discovered a letter. And no ordinary letter. Dated 29th December 1945, it was from a 20-year-old soldier called Bill Moore to his girlfriend Bernadean in Kansas. He was wondering if he would live through the war to see her face again.
“My darling, lovable, alluring, Bernadean,” the love letter began, and ended with the words: “I have never been so homesick for anyone in all my life as I am for you.” And the words between were every big as impassioned:
“I ran out of space, but I could have written a lot more adjectives describing you. You are so lovely, darling, that I often wonder how it is possible that you are mine. I'm really the luckiest guy in the world, you know. And you are the reason, Bernadean. Even your name sounds lovely to me.
“I have nothing and have very little prospects of ever having anything. On top of that I certainly am not the handsome type. Far from it. I love you! I guess I always will. If this letter sounds a little too sentimental to you don’t think too badly of me because I am just in that mood right now. I would give a million dollars to be with you right now so I could tell you directly how it feels and what my thoughts are. It’s just when I get so terribly terribly lonely for you that I write letters like this.”
The letter also came with a postscript: “You once mentioned that you wanted to be a good cook. Well Bernadean, you had better be a good one!” suggesting that Bill’s intention, if he returned home safely, was to marry and set up home with his sweetheart.
Ilene was so moved by the letter she set about trying to find its author, determined that the romantic words should be reconciled with either the letter’s owner or sender.
With a little help from a local radio station she discovered that Bill had indeed survived the war and was now approaching his 90s and living in an assisted home for veterans. And moreover, he had lived to see Bernadean’s beautiful face again – the pair married and had three children together until Bernadean unfortunately passed away after 63 years together.
The couple’s daughter Michelle was overcome with emotion on reading the note: “It’s truly a window into how deep their love was. We knew they loved each other very, very much, but as children you don’t see that. He was a mechanical engineer. I cannot believe he shared these deep emotional words with her,” she said.
The couple’s wartime separation was something that stayed with the pair and influenced their children. Michelle revealed that in 2000, fascinated by her father’s stories about his experience, she retraced his steps across Europe. “I did this amazing trip so I can picture exactly where he was on December 29th of 1944, sitting in this miserable, cold, dark forest in the northern region where France, Germany and Belgium all meet.”
So how did their love letter come to find its way into the hands of a thrift store bargain hunter? Michelle’s theory is that her mother slipped it for safekeeping inside the sleeve of the couple’s favourite record. A song from the Broadway musical Right This Way. It was called, rather aptly, I’ll be seeing you.
Now go get yourself a hankie.